Rowing: Meters Vs. Calories

June 30, 2019
July 3, 2019

Rowing: Meters Vs. Calories

I thought I’d make a quick post about the difference when it comes to meters vs calories on the rower. Spoiler alert: there really isn’t any!

We’ve all heard it and probably parroted these thinking they were true:

  • You’ve got to set the damper up to a 10 when you’re rowing for calories!
  • You need 1 calorie per pull!
  • You need to pull harder but slower because calories don’t accumulate quickly like it does with meters! (I’m definitely guilty of this one – but there’s a reason)

Some think everything changes when doing calories because when you stop pulling you don’t get any more calories. Sure, when you stop rowing, the monitor slowly continues to add meters. But the same thing is happening when you stop rowing for calories, you just might not see it. If calories were shown out a couple decimals then you could see that you’re slowly chipping away at each calorie. Imagine the opposite: if you were rowing for meters but the erg monitor only updated every 50m. You’re still moving along, the monitor just doesn’t give you precise updates. 

Remember 19.1? Rowing for calories and thrusters? For CrossFit Open WOD 19.1, there was a rule that said “Each time you return to the rower you or your judge must reset the monitor to zero before rowing.” 


Because the monitor is still chipping away on the next calorie when you stop! Have you ever noticed that if you keep the monitor going during sets, that your first calorie back on the rower comes a LOT quicker? It’s true!

So how are calories calculated on the erg? Well the monitor is calculating calories per hour, which is related to power output, which the erg measures in watts.

If you want to read about the physics of erging, then click HERE to find out more than you ever wanted to know!

But, what changes on the rower when you press the units button on the monitor? Nothing! The laws of physics are the same, nothing has moved around on the erg. What once said meters now says calories. Everything is still the same…So why change how you row?

Calories on the erg is simply another unit of measurement on the monitor. Watts, meters, calories, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to turn the flywheel to a higher setting. You don’t need to row faster or slower. You don’t need to row upside down. You don’t have to pull harder when doing calories vs meters.

Regardless of rowing for calories or meters, you need to row the same way and remain efficient.

The problem we have when it comes to calories is that we aren’t familiar with what the monitor is showing us. We know how fast we can row 500m. We know how far we can get in a minute. But most of us have no idea how many calories we can get in a minute or how long it will take us to do 50 calories!


For starters I took the guess work out figuring out how calories/hour compared to split times with the chart below!

So let’s say a WOD involves 50 calorie row at the beginning and end of the workout. Looking at my chart, that’s going to end up being longer than 500m unless you can row a sub-1:30 pace for 500m and still have energy left in the tank. For 50 calories it’s going to take around 600-900m in the end, so you definitely DO NOT want to row as fast as your 500m PR pace. Maybe for this workout you’ll aim for your 2K pace. If your 2K time is 8:00, that’s a 2:00/500m pace which equates to ~1000 cal/hr on the monitor. You’ll finish 50 calories in roughly 3 minutes and you’ll have traveled about 750m. Nothing too crazy so you should have plenty of energy left to complete the workout and the final row at the end!

What coaches see most of the time are athletes rowing as fast as they possibly can for longer distances than they can sustain. When there’s a situation of a long distance to row (think greater than 500m), it’s more advantageous for the athlete to make longer, stronger, and slower strokes on the rower than busting out as many strokes as they can in the shortest amount of time. Why? For the same reason you’re not going to sprint a half mile or more when you run. Pacing is involved. And, knowing how to pace on the rower is harder to do than when you run. When you run, you just slow down. But on the rower people tend to have a hard time pulling slower strokes. That’s where our coaching can help! Coaches can help you find small tweaks to slow down your pacing and make your pulls that much more efficient and powerful!

So again, don’t change the way you row just because you changed what the monitor says.. Going into any workout on the erg requires that you understand how to use it. There is no good way to game the machine that can outperform good movement patterns and efficiency. Taking the time to learn the skill will improve not just your calorie rowing but any of your rowing workouts.

Want to row better, more efficiently, and with a higher power output? It all starts with a “No Sweat Intro”. Schedule yours below

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